Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Chapter 28 "Carrot Shaped and Colored Ear Plugs...dedicated to McCaine

Earlier that morning, May awoke from her sleep prematurely. It was time to put the “bathroom game plan” into action. Three hours prior to this moment the bathroom game plan had become essential, in her mind at least. One might find the “bathroom game plan” humorous, but they obviously have never slept in ant covered sand, 50 yards away from the six inch hole toilet seat in the middle of the bush of Africa. That person might never had taken the perfect dose of Tylenol pm, one and one-third tablets worth, promptly at 11pm that night and surely that person would be better versed in chemistry then May. (the previous“then” was intentionally spelled incorrectly by the author with hopes it might make Cappy smile, should he still read silly little story blogs). In order to understand the current game plan one must recognize the past failures…

At approximately 2:00am, standard time, May’s bladder awoke her. Her carrot shaped and colored earplugs, an essential part of her evening attire, had fallen out. Actually, just one ear plug fell out, the one that found residence in her left ear remained. This was a small detail that later would be of vast importance. She lifted her eye mask up. It fit loosely around her forehead and the back of her neck. She reached around in search of the clock-flashlight, as she thought, surely my clock would win a competition for ingenuity as it was a clock, alarm, and flashlight all in one. She began to wonder who gave her this clever little gift, but could not recall the day she received it. Presently, her hand made a sweeping movement across the tent floor but came up empty. May thought, maybe I can make it to the bathroom without a light. Later she would find that to be the most unintelligent decision of all of the unintelligent moves she made that night.

May stretched her extremely bug bitten legs out of her sleeping bag, stood up and walked to the tent door. Her walk was a wobbly one and almost resulted in her tripping over Red’s head, which rest peacefully two feet away from the zipper. May partially stepped and partially tripped out of the tent. Her barefoot landed in the thousand-wide ant army that seemed to be attacking something on the other side of the tent. She bent down in search for her flip-flops. Where on earth are they, she thought as she brushed the ants off her feet. She reached her hand slightly under the tent, her head, ear-length away from the battle line.

Are these little creatures laughing at me, she wondered. To her surprise, in a quiet and groggy voice, May whispered such phrases as, “just wait until next time”, “you can’t handle this”, and “rematch”. As any winning competitor does, the ants laughed at her, rather weak, attempt of “talking smack”. She could have sworn she heard them saying something but, between the Tylenol pm and the carrot shaped and colored plug embedded in her left ear, all she could make out was a muffled, “all, jant, all”. Later May would realize the ants battle chant was, “fall, giant, fall”, but at this particular moment, she was more concerned about slipping her flip-flops on and getting out of their territory.

Unknowingly, May stepped two feet into the climax of this game. She realized the Tylenol PM made her senses a little dim, what she did not realize was the carrot colored and shaped ear plug stuck in her left ear caused her equilibrium to be off balance. As a result, her third step landed her sprawled out on the dirt ground. Her light blue trimmed eye mask fell back over her eyes and she awkwardly lifted herself back up only to stumble blindly into the wall of Mr. Chard’s stick room. She removed the eye mask, took two more steps forward and finally realized she must remove the carrot colored and shaped ear plug from her left ear. She made it to the bathroom, half seeing and half guessing where the hole was, and made it back to the tent...alive.

May found her missing ear plug and her clock-flashlight thanks to Red’s headlamp. She lay down in her bed thinking of what she would do the next time she needed to use the bathroom. Little did she know, “the next time” was just three hours away. She made a “bathroom game plan” even though she was still unaware of her opposing team. She fell asleep thinking of all the restaurants she would eat at her first day back in America. She awoke three hours later to her bladder’s urgent beckoning.

May put the plan into action. She wrapped the cotton eye-mask around the foam ear-plugs and stuck them in her pillow case. After the successful completion of what May called, “pillow case protection”, she pulled her clock-flashlight out from under her mat where she devised its perfect position to be easily grasped when needed. She stepped gently over Red’s, auburn hair and the yellow blanket that covered her face, and made it successfully to the door of the tent. She slipped her feet into the flip-flops she had lain to the right of the door, facing outward, on her previous bathroom attempt. The ant army retreated and was no longer an obstacle. May made it to and from the bathroom at a steady pace with no stumbling, and this time she even saw the hole.

She re-entered the tent and lay comfortably in her bed reflecting on the morning’s first attempt when it all, finally, made sense. The eye-mask, the flip flops, the Tylenol pm, the ants, and of course the captain of it all…the carrot shaped and colored ear plugs were the other team. She was sure of it. She could even remember the tiny arms on the little bodies of those ants, they were dancing and clapping and cheering the team on. The eye mask was the silent player, but nevertheless just as important as each of the other team players. The flip flops had the most pressure on them and thus, hid, or was that just a trick in the game plot? And, the carrot shaped and colored earplugs, they were the captain of this inanimate object team? Wait, the clock, was the clock in on it, did it disappear in those moments when she needed its’ flashlight eyes the most…oh she could not bare the thought.

She remembered her sweet sister, McCaine, had given those earplugs to her…could she be the coach of all this, the master mind behind all this game? Was she out to defeat her? First thing in the morning she would have a “coach’s meeting” with McCaine to discuss the previous nights performance. After all, the best defense is a good offense. She fell back asleep with thoughts of how she had become “strange” and with wonders of whether or not she would ever “fit in” the American culture again.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Chapter 27 "Red Slash Paradox"

May entered the small stick room slightly earlier then Red and Berny, the new sister who came to their team two weeks prior to this cool morning in November. Her legs hung over the poorly painted iron pole bed as her body rested on mere threads intricately woven above and below to create a rainbow of twine strands. One might call this tapestry an economical mattress, but the subject who slept upon it would discontentedly describe it as nothing more then mere strings elevated above the ground. This morning it did not so much take the form of a bed, but rather a couch for the sisters and the visitor they expected. May’s eyes strode around the room. They jumped to the top where she noticed the flimsy wall barrier held up the tin sheet roof that lay slightly lopsided above their heads.

Her eyes moved to the sides of the room. They skipped over the gaps between the surplus of sticks and took a brief rest upon the slits she could see of the gigantic white tarp suspended on the outside of the wall facing the east. That morning it was a coat of protection from the wind’s breath that seemed so powerful. Its main purpose was not to protect the occupants of the room from streams of air, but rather the bullets and guns that were prevalent outside the door. Draped diagonally over the huge black gun in the middle of the tarp was a large red slash. For a brief moment May contemplated the red slash paradox that was the sign.

The sign protected the sisters from the same guns that protected the entire village from the rebels that had already killed 200,000 thousand people and caused another 2 million to flee for their lives. Anyone who was to enter their living quarters must rest their gun on the rock wall outside of the compound for, as the sign clearly stated, no guns were allowed in. Her mind critically found the sign to be a cheap comfort, nothing more then a superficial plastic protection from metal drops that stole, and would continue to steal, mothers and fathers and sons and daughters.

Her mind traveled a road of visions that resembled pot bellied babies, each viciously sucking on a single lolli-pop that appeared to be their first meal in five days. She saw the tired eyes of women who were alive and dead at the same time, breathing air into bodies that were drained of all hope. She thought, what is oxygen without hope? She saw the torn bodies of men, scars risen from thorns that tore into their black skin as they ran from rebels who set their homes on fire. She saw round lumps on their legs and their arms that were three inches too close to the bullet’s path.

Usually, May attempted, desperately, to avoid these pictures in her mind. She saw them daily but she distanced herself. She could not let herself enter in, even in the smallest way, this suffering in front of her. She was afraid it would paralyze her. It was later when she thought, if she closed her eyes she could see more clearly, and that is when she allowed her heart to grieve the evil in the area and the curse on the world.

Red walked into the room and unknowingly pulled May back to the present issue, where to find more tea for the visitor who would soon be there. At that moment neither sister realized the next few hours in their compound would change their lives forever.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Chapter 26 "Power in the Name"

Six months into the journey the idea of planning ahead meant little and structured events, not being so structured, were still slowly being burned out of the sisters. A long time before this warm Monday morning they learned “glitches” would inevitably be a part of every day life in the Sandbox and that flexibility was essential. May would look back on this day, thankful there are no glitches in the Father’s perfect interruptions in her plans and with a heart a little more willing to be flexible.

When the sister’s plans changed that morning and they decided to visit their friend, Shatra, at her university, they were slightly annoyed but not surprised. Upon their arrival she requested they accompany her to her classroom. Hesitantly, the sisters followed Shatra into her classroom where they were greeted by her professor and twenty girls whose colorful head coverings, pressed firmly into their foreheads, would later leave slight indentations just below the brow of their hairline. After the professor’s amiable inquiry had passed, the sisters sat comfortably in the back of the classroom only slightly interested in the days’ lessen.

They soon found they were not there for mere cordial greetings and superficial attentiveness to the lesson at hand. The three white girls had been the objects of show that day. The professor requested they sit at the front of the room and share their lives with his students. Red and McCaine both shared about their families and about asking the Father where they should go to help people. May was the last of the sisters to go to the front and she was thankful for Red and McCaine’s conversations that opened the door for her to share.

Ironically, May did not like being with large groups of people and she loathed speaking in front of more then about three sets of eyes. In college she conveniently needed to use the restroom right before it was her turn to read a paragraph out-loud in class. When she was Student Government Union, President, she usually made the Vice President do most of the talking at the senate meetings besides saying “in favor of” and “opposed to” for her anxiousness and nervousness held her back from getting words out. As she sat and listened to what the sisters said she became anxious in the opposite way. She was anxious for them to finish so she could have her chance to share.

May had been holding her breath for one hundred seventy six days, the amount of time that had passed before she had the opportunity to say His name out loud. It seemed as though someone had placed their hands over her mouth and she could not get air in or out. She had slowly been suffocating and the only oxygen that came in was little gasps of air from hearing friend’s accounts of their opportunities. She felt frantic in the moment, trying to wait patiently for the sisters to finish sharing their stories, nervous the class would end before she could get up there and say his name aloud to these souls.

Each time she gave money to the beggar children and widowed women she declared to them, “G loves you and he has a good plan for your life,” but she always wondered who “G” was to them. This day May declared to the women that JC gave her hope, that JC gave her life meaning and that JC put it on her heart to come to this land and to love these people, their people. As she shared the Father’s 2000 year old gift with the young women in front of her she realized the gift she was receiving in the moment and she was able to breathe again.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Chapter 25 "Hope under the Trees"

May came empty, to a place beneath the giant leaf trees, surrounded by stick house villages, deep within the bush of Africa. She found a seed that had been planted there years earlier. On the outskirts of pot-hole filled roads divided by landmine covered fields, surrounded by disease filled soil that stole the lives of mothers and fathers, a seed of selflessness was planted, deep within the bush of Africa. Forgiveness sprouted, faith formed leaves, and hope blossomed from one selfless seed planted, deep within the bush of Africa.

A place exists where a handful of goodness was sprinkled during a time filled with evil, where few tears are shed and much laughter is contained behind the fence. There is a place where the Father’s glory shines through the people’s sin, where children play in a sanctuary of peace, deep within the bush of Africa. There is a place where creativity is found and where dreams are made, where children jump when they sing and throw their hands in the air when they dance. A place where the parentless have found the Father, where giggles can be heard from a distance and hugs can be felt up close, deep within the bush of Africa.

May knew Red and McCaine enjoyed visiting the orphanage, not quite as much as she, but they could see her heart was inspired by this safe haven for defenseless. She was thankful for sweet sisters who skipped lunches to hike the three mile path and to encourage the beginnings of a dream. Each of the sisters were captivated by this haven for the young and afflicted.

May came empty, but while she played tic-tac toe and swung children in the air, her heart softened. Somewhere, in between the times she twirled the children in the air and shuffled with them in the dance; somewhere, in between the sweet songs flowing from the mouths of the innocent and the attentive eyes upon her as she read stories about the Savior, May was filled again.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Chapter 24 "Lessons from a Nalgene Bottle"

May’s purple Nalgene bottle had accompanied her through many experiences in the desert. She found a certain sense of comfort in having it by her side during her journeys. Nalgenes were not found in the Sandbox and she guarded hers very carefully, as it was her main source of hydration during outings. So, it was uncharacteristically careless of her to place it on the dusty floor of the Amjad as she fiddled through her purse to find the correct change for the driver. She handed him the change and walked into the restaurant with the sisters and without the faded water bottle which had taken residency in the backseat of the amjad.

The sisters could see May’s annoyance at her absentmindedness and they knew she was not particularly fond of amjad and rickshaw drivers. Since the stranger incident, she had never thought anything kind about any one of them and she had never given the benefit of the doubt to a single one of them. The sisters ordered their lunch and talked about the night before when their bathroom sink broke. May laughed as she remembered Red walking out of her room and entering the bathroom, one second later exiting the bathroom and exclaiming, “We have a problem.” She had jumped out of her bed to look and she saw the bathroom flooding from a leak in the hose that attached to the sink. Red and McCaine grabbed a bucket to contain the water and May tried calling for help.

The phone and sink were in a plot to get the sisters, outgoing calls could not be made. The sisters each took a turn, with all their might, trying to turn the water off, only to find out the valve they were working so hard to turn, was merely a decoration. The house phone finally worked and they called a friend. Red and May went up to the roof to see if there was a way to turn the water off from atop the house. McCaine emptied the red bucket that filled every few minutes.

May was excited to use her headlamp, as if she were climbing into a dark cave. She stepped on top of the roof and looked over the edge. At that precise moment she realized two rather important things. She had somehow attained a fear of heights since she had gotten to the desert and being up that high while on Tylenol PM was not one of her smarter ideas. She became light headed and made her way to the corner of the roof too afraid to get back on the ladder to get down.

Red saw their friend pull up and yelled up to May that she was going to let him in. May, mustering up as much courage as she could, half crawled and half walked around the roof trying to find the right nozzle to turn off the water. Red returned and realized May was huddled back in the corner, the roof had gotten the best of her. After a slight pep talk Red had gotten May down the ladder and safely into the house.

The sisters were close to hysterics when Red noticed May had stopped laughing and was starring out the door of the restaurant. May stood up as the amjad driver opened the door and approached her. He placed the purple Nalgene in her hand without saying a word. He had come back an hour later to return it. In the best Arabic she could recall, she uttered a “thank you very much” as he turned and walked out of the restaurant not asking for anything in return for the Nalgene.

May sat back down in her chair. Red and McCaine knew this was “a moment” for her. They started tearing as they saw May cry, humbled that in a culture filled with people who seemed only out for their best interests, a stranger who she never gave the benefit of the doubt to in the first place, went out of his way to return her water bottle and asked nothing in return.

Chapter 23 "Sitting in Brokeness"

Some days May felt like she wore her skin inside out, other days she felt like the slightest tap on any part of her body would lead the rest of it to shatter into a million little pieces. She loathed those days of brokenness and emptiness. She learned to sit through them, to sit still, and to wait patiently for the mood to lift and to be filled. She waited for a new day, when the insecurities shaken by a restless mind would settle back to a stable surface.

If beauty was found in brokenness, inevitably, she would find something stunning those days at the end of August, because the brokenness seemed bottomless. Sometimes it was hard and ever so painful to sit and wait. How does one visit and love others when they feel parts of themselves are missing, when they are not whole? She learned how to live outside of herself on those days. Some might consider it fake, to smile and laugh with people when the smile is a mask and the laughter is a mere shallow echo from empty chambers of the heart. She strived to be genuine while she was drowning inwardly in her tears.

As she was being refined in these flames of brokenness she saw her own inadequacies rise to the surface. Her shortcomings were exposed and she found herself walking on grace’s shore. The massiveness of this beach in which she walked, she could not grasp. In her hand she held a morsel of what set her free to bare the brokenness that was upon her. This one grain of grace was so vast and so much more beautiful then anything she could ever illustrate. She dared not even an attempt describing it because she could never give justice to its’ splendor. Walking on this shore, so immense, deserving not even one grain but being given the entire beach, to be loved that much, was in itself overwhelming and almost unbearable. She could not bare the weight of holding another grain in her hand because with it was the weight of the cross.

She sat in grace filled brokenness knowing the emptiness would be filled and the darkness turned white beneath His red cloak. She lifted her hands and kept singing joyful songs that came from a heart that was being purified.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Chapter 22 "Distraction Lane"

It was evident that May hit the four month language slump when small Arabic words such as “warda”, which simply meant “rose”, tempted her mind into thoughts about the bookstore she wanted to open one day. She imagined the flower stand outside the store that would sell Chrysanthemum, Amaryllis, and Birds of Paradise, along with an array of others. Her mind walked through the doors of the bookstore and journeyed around shelves and amiable book displays. It stopped at the register counter where the different brands of the coffee, she would offer her customers, shadowed the pastries that would be served alongside freshly squeezed juices and homemade breads.

She heard the sound the tin lid made while being twisted off the thick, glass candy jar that contained dozens of lemon drops and sat next to the “save the manatees” pins near the cash register. Illogically, her next thought was the joy she would find swimming with the manatees one day. With her thoughts once again happening upon the bookstore, she realized that she never really decided on the actual books that would be on the shelves.

There was no controlling the randomness to her thoughts during this day’s diversion from studying. May wondered if her plans matched up to His and whether or not she would get to run the orphanages in Haiti and Africa that she wanted to build. She wondered if she would ever give a little more then she got. She always thought she would give more than she would get, but somehow managed leaving places getting so much more than she ever gave. That thought always baffled her and she wished to eventually give more than she would get. Her mind moved onto playing “airplane” with the orphans and twirling them in endless circles. She felt the dizziness.

She wondered when she would get the slight gap that sat comfortably between her two, center, bottom teeth fixed. She wanted to ballroom dance in the sand at the beach while the sun was setting and to own a long red coat and stylish black boots (neither of which she owned), just to be fashionable in cold weather somewhere one day. She wondered when she would be able to drop her middle name and move her last name to its’ spot and add another last name – she secretly hoped it would start with an “M” so her initials would squiggle “MMM”. Her mind drifted further off…

It wandered onto the things she wanted to “do” in her life. She thought about the kinds of marble and wood she would choose for the handmade backgammon board she would make her father. She wondered why she did not bring all the scrap pieces of material she had cut off from old prom dresses, basketball jerseys, and graduation caps to sew together with strips of material from aged tee-shirts that had significance and pieces of clothe she had purchased from different countries she had traveled. She wanted to sew together a “life” blanket that she expected to give to her kids one day.

She thought of all the things she wanted to learn. She wanted to learn to play the guitar (or just one song), surf, publish a book, make tasteful pottery bowls, run a marathon (preferably in Florida during one of the cooler months), earn a doctorate (she had no idea what in), throw a huge surprise party (she had no idea who for). She even thought about what name she would give the golden retriever and black lab she wished to own one day.

She did not realize she was strolling down Distraction Lane until a half hour passed and she felt a drip of sweat nonchalantly roll down her cheek, drip onto her forearm, and awaken her to the slightly smudged flash cards that she held in her moist right hand. There she was, sitting in the bamboo chair with pastel clothe cushions, amused by her mind’s ability to jump from “warda” to the entire rest of her life, some ideas more shallow than others. May flipped to the next flashcard hoping her dreams would one day become more than paragraphs on the paper narrative of her life.